The Crossroads Repertory Theatre at Indiana State University opens their 2009 season with a delightfully inventive and charming production of Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing.
It's a production that takes its Shakespeare seriously enough, to want to have fun with every aspect.
The setting is the 1930s with the returning heroes Benedick, Don Pedro and Claudio as trio of energetic fly boys come to enjoy sunny California.
The set up and many of the intervening scenes are creatively handled as grainy black and white documentary footage with scenes of our heroes mixed in with original pieces from the time.
The Crossroads Rep production is rich in music and theatricality, but economical with actors. Just eight play the seventeen characters.
Frankly there are a few stretches, especially with the women playing male roles, but as soon as the Shakespeare language takes over the character and the dramatic points are all in place.
Brandon Wentz was a wonderfully mercurial Benedick, that confirmed bachelor. He was ably partnered by Amy Attaway as the equally strong willed Beatrice. Their sparring and eventual love was delightfully silly and quite human.
Michael Finchum was a charmer both vocally and as the handsome young hesitant lover of the innocent Hero.
Whitney Kos made Hero both an innocent and a later wiser young woman. Kevin Johnson was her affectionate and sometimes baffled father.
Drew Hampton made good use of his role as the older more experienced and wiser of the three young flyers.
Carolyn Rodkey did varied duties as a waiting woman, a confidant, a third voice in trios and also as a pretty nasty key villain.
Veteran actor Sharon Ammen appeared as a waiting woman, a plotter and a quite befuddled Friar.
She neatly personed each role, acting, singing, dancing up a storm, and always seeming to get the last word in her scenes.
Director Berchild keeps to his 30s period by using dance and music from the era instead of the Elizabethan pieces chosen by Shakespeare.
Instead of galliards and step dances there is an athletic jitterbug and a sprightly foxtrot. Instead of a "Hey Nonny Nonny," the young flyers sing Young James Oliver's "T'aint What You Do(It's the Way that You Do it)."
Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers' "The Lady is a Tramp" was sung as a sprightly comment on the female independence.
The frustrations of the battle of the sexes, central to "Much Ado…," were pointed up in George and Ira Gershwin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."
And naturally enough, the happy ending is saluted with "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Isn't Got that Swing?" by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills.
There are three more chances to catch Much Ado About Nothing at the Crossroads Repertory Theatre, July 14, 18 and 24.